Spiritual Abuse in EFCA: Review of Once an Insider by Amanda Farmer

Spiritual Abuse in EFCA: Review of Once an Insider by Amanda Farmer 1

(I received a free copy of this book for review purposes from the author.  I am not being paid for this review.)

Amanda Farmer’s book Once An Insider, Now Without A Church Home: One Couple’s Faith Crisis Due to the Infiltration and Spread of Authoritarianism, Calvinism, Complementarianism, and Covenants in the Am Evangelical Church is available on Amazon here.  The book description states,

This is the story of one couple’s faith crisis after realizing the church they have spent 25 years serving as leaders in has made subtle but profound changes over the years. It is their journey from being trusting followers of Jesus to questioning everything about their faith. Who is really following the Bible? Who is really interpreting the Bible correctly? This is a personal memoir that follows the changes in the American Evangelical Church as it becomes more popular to embrace Calvinism, Authoritarianism, Complementarianism, and Covenants and the effect this can have on one’s faith. The story illustrates the pain of going from being an accepted member of a church – from being on the inside – to realizing that the leadership desires that you leave the fellowship.

My first impression is that this book is well-written.  I’m pulled in right away to the author’s story, and several similarities:

1–She comes from a strict denomination, Mennonite.  My church (Nazarene) let us wear pretty much whatever we wanted to–short hair, makeup, pants, shorts, etc.–but wouldn’t let us drink, dance, go to movies, that kind of thing.  Meanwhile, I heard that our churches in the South were a lot like the Pentecostals, restricting your appearance along with your behavior.

2–Her husband Gordon comes from the same denomination as mine (LCMS), and she, like me, did not convert to it because she’d been raised to believe her own denomination’s view of Scripture is correct.  Meanwhile, he did not want to convert to her denomination, either.

3–Which–same as with us–led them to search for a denomination that would serve as a compromise where they both could feel comfortable.  And–same as with my husband and me–they felt the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) would suit, because of a freedom in belief and practice from strict rules or legalism.

4–Just as with us, their first experiences with the church are good, full of wonderful experiences and growing closer to people, making friends, getting more involved in the church.  Some of my best memories are from that time.

5–And also–same as us–this couple never heard of John Piper or Neo-Calvinism, until long after their influence had begun, and had come to their church.

At the time they start attending the Evangelical Free Church in town, while their church believes in male headship, women are still very much a part of the church life, teaching and ministering, and have leadership roles as well.  In fact, the contributions of women are respected.

When a Calvinist preacher is hired for their church, they don’t know at first that he is a Calvinist.  He is charismatic and beloved, and the author and her husband become close friends with him–same as our experience.

Then in 2008, according to a quoted blog post by an EFCA pastor, the EFCA Statement of Faith is changed to make room for Calvinist/Reformed doctrine.  Before, it leaned toward Arminian dispensationalism, but now there are a lot more Reformed pastors in the denomination than there were in 1950.

Wayne Grudem’s book on Systematic Theology (PDF here) is introduced into the church via a weekly Bible study required for the elders.

Grudem, along with John Piper (a neo-Calvinist theological superstar), helped to edit Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism and co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  While in some circles their theological writings are praised, in some others they are accused of bringing spiritually abusive doctrines into the Evangelical churches, while also trying to put women “back in their place” (ie, the kitchen, as they obey their husbands and keep quiet in church).  For more information on this criticism, see blogs such as Spiritual Sounding Board and The Wartburg Watch.

Calvinism didn’t use to be so big in Evangelical churches, but in the last few decades, “neo-Calvinism” has been spreading and taking hold in churches all over America.  Wikipedia traces it to 2006, but it (and the works of Piper) hit my EFCA church much sooner, maybe around 2002.

Like many of us, Gordon, an elder, is not familiar enough with Calvinism to recognize what the change in the Statement of Faith would mean, or what the introduction of Grudem’s ideas would mean.  He is of “simple faith.”

Pastor Travis, over time, starts making more demands on the people, starting with the elder board.  Prayers led by the elders or other men in church have to follow a particular formula, which leads to nobody wanting to lead prayers.  The elders have to attend a particular leader training course in order to be elders, which introduces “servant leadership” and “shepherding.”

(The Shepherding Movement has been rife with spiritual abuse.  It started back in the 70s and was very controversial; even Pat Robertson compared it to Jonestown.  It sounds like it died out for a time because it was so abusive, but now here it is again, re-emerging in the 2000s.)

And then Pastor Travis insists that they jump into the next church building project without any sort of planning, trusting God will provide, because this is the “biblical” way to do it.  With that, he goes on an 8-week sabbatical–which also raises a red flag for me, because that’s when our own EFCA pastor came back preaching John Piperism.

When a new member joins the church and becomes Amanda’s subordinate (she is church treasurer), she senses a new dynamic: He starts going around her, leaving her out of discussions which require the input of the treasurer.  Eventually he resigns; later on, he becomes chairman of the administrative council, only to resign in disgust from there as well.  His reason: because she is a woman and he feels it is disgraceful for her to be in a position of leadership over him, or in any leadership role.

When she protests to the pastor, he reacts in anger, saying this is biblical–that women are allowed input, but men are to be leaders–that this is somehow “equal.”  She notes that decisions are now being made by male leaders without even the input of the congregation.

Men in the congregation are now beginning to feel like very few are “qualified” to be elders.  After years of faithful service to the church, Amanda and Gordon are both made to feel like their contributions are not valued and like they’re being judged unworthy.

And I have to note that in my Orthodox church–about as conservative as you can get, with many practices that haven’t changed in centuries, and a strict adherence to doctrine established well over a thousand years ago–it doesn’t get this extreme.  Here, a woman can serve on the board, be treasurer or parish president, read the Epistle and other Bible readings in services, serve at the altar and in other capacities during the service, etc.  It also never got this extreme in the Nazarene church in which I grew up.  So why is it so anathema for women to do this in an EFCA church now–especially when the EFCA did not use to be this extreme?

Finally, Amanda and Gordon discover that Calvinism–which they’d never heard of before this–has infiltrated the church.  It makes Gordon feel destined for Hell, and to Amanda the Calvinist god seems like her abusive father.

This is why many of us have rejected Calvinism and Reformed theology, running away screaming, not calling it “good Reformed doctrine.”  I had heard of Calvinism when we attended the EFCA church, but didn’t know a whole lot about it beyond predestination.  Like us, Amanda and Gordon are horrified at this concept of a god who uses people as tools for his own glory, and chooses that most of them will be damned.  Like us, they also look on in disbelief as others in the church welcome the words of John Piper as if he were a prophet.

They also soon discover that most of the people in the church haven’t even heard of Calvinism!  I wonder what kind of religious training and schooling people are getting these days in the Evangelical churches, because what I didn’t hear about in church, I learned about in school from literature and history.  I knew Calvinism was to be avoided, even though I didn’t know all the tenets.

The flock also has not heard of shepherding or membership covenants, which the leadership team wants to introduce.  As with shepherding, membership covenants have been recognized as abusive for many years (I read about them around 2005 when researching spiritual abuse).  But the people don’t know, they trust their pastors as the voice of God, and the practice keeps spreading throughout Evangelicalism.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge –KJV, Hosea 4:6

Pastor Travis also introduces a version of the Bible I’m not familiar with–ESV–overseen by Wayne Grudem.  The RSV already had an update, the NRSV, but the ESV is another update of the RSV.  It was released in 2001, but has had several updates since then which arguably make the Bible seem more patriarchal (such as, removing “sisters” from “brothers and sisters,” even though I found evidence that the latter is correct).  By late 2006, I was no longer Protestant, so this translation never made it into my church or studies.

Amanda and Gordon begin to get the strong impression that they’re seen as “troublemakers” for not agreeing with the new Calvinist direction of the church, and–after 25 years of being heavily involved in it–that the pastors and elders would be glad to see them leave.  They’re told that they should “submit” to the judgment of the pastors when they disagree.

Their alarm increases when the church elders and pastors decide to implement a membership covenant–especially the parts about submitting to their guidance and not leaving the church until discipline issues are resolved.  They suspect that this part is added because the pastor couldn’t stop a woman from divorcing her abusive husband, and then leaving the church because he tried to discipline her over it.

In reviewing the proposed covenant text, I agree–This sounds like the spiritual abuser’s dream!  If you agree to it, you sign away your right to disagree with the teachings of the elders/pastors, or even to leave the church–unless you go to another one just like it.  You pledge yourself to support the church in every way, including with your finances (note that), and your butt has to be in the seat regularly.  You pledge to help evangelize, so hey, more people get brought in to the cult church.

There’s a part about indulging in “freedoms” that would jeopardize someone else’s faith, so I suspect that everything from the occasional cuss word to drinking an occasional beer to listening to Rob Zombie to playing Dungeons and Dragons could be verboten.  Supposedly this just means you can’t do it around a member who doesn’t like it.  But how do you know who does and doesn’t?  Will you be disciplined if a sensitive church member overhears you talk about going to a Goth club?

You also have to go along with church discipline, not just for yourself, but “admonishing” others as well.  And if you violate or neglect the covenant, you will be disciplined.

Since only death releases you from the covenant (or going to a church just like it), you are–essentially–trapped in this church.  Whether it is binding legally, I can’t say.  But someone who signs such a covenant is likely to feel that it is spiritually binding, and fear the wrath of God if they violate it–just as many Christians fear the wrath of God if they divorce an abusive spouse.

Amanda openly brings up her concerns in a congregational meeting.  Her bravery makes others willing to speak up as well, so she finds many people disagree with the covenant proposal.  But these people are shot down (by the pastor’s wife!) as being mostly women who should be submitting to their husbands–while men don’t feel safe giving their opinions, either.

All of Amanda’s concerns are valid, but the pastors dismiss her and her concerns as divisive; they accuse her of being bitter.  They gaslight her.  A series of attempts at discussion–in which she feels like they just want to shut her up, and when she gets yelled at like her father used to do–leads to her and Gordon no longer attending, intending to eventually leave for good (after her daughter’s wedding in the church).

The leadership team strikes me as narcissistic and spiritually abusive.

A leadership team commentary on the covenant says that members are not to bring civil lawsuits against each other.  On the one hand, I can agree with not suing each other over stupid stuff.  For example, the threat of my ex-friends (also Orthodox) to sue me for libel–for speaking out about their abuse of me–would be forbidden under such a clause.

The farther we go, however, the exercise of control and potential for abuse grow stronger.  Tithing (at least 10%), regular church attendance, reading the Bible–all are part of the covenant’s stipulations.  As are discipling others and evangelizing: things which are considered the “personal responsibility of every Christian,” and include one’s family and others “in our sphere of influence.”  This basically sounds like forcing everyone in the church to become annoying, trying to convert everybody they know no matter if it’s welcomed, or if it suits the personal abilities or gifts of each member.

For me, for example, this would be impossible, because even when I believed I was supposed to do these things, I couldn’t do them.  I was too shy–and it wasn’t as if I could just go out and make new friends if I scared off the ones I had with all the preaching.

As a kid, I already had a lot of trouble making friends and finding somebody to date, partially because of the shyness, but possibly also because my religion forced me not to act like the other kids.  I wouldn’t listen to secular rock or go to movies, and told my 7th-grade science teacher that I couldn’t read that passage out loud because it was about evolution.  That kind of crap probably helped take a big chunk out of my social standing.  Imagine what it would’ve been like if I tried to convert everybody I knew.

Yeah, that’s what this covenant would force on a whole church full of people: a requirement to be obnoxious to everyone you know, while also giving a chunk of your income whether you could afford it or not, and going to church as often as possible.

Then comes a requirement to submit to the leadership team.  Even the elders are to submit.  The church’s means of protecting against error and oppression is to elect “biblically qualified men to join the elder team.”  But–what about confrontation when a leader is in error?

Then comes the discipline section.  On the one hand, sometimes a member will abuse others and will need discipline for that.  But many people are disciplined for trivial reasons in these “covenant” churches, such as disagreeing with the leadership or having a different view of whether something is sinful.  And this covenant would force such people to stay inside the church.  It’s made very clear that a member is not to leave the church for any reason except for 1) death, or 2) to go to another church just like it.

I believe the covenant proposal was ultimately shelved, but Amanda writes here that

The church we left is now proposing constitution changes that allow discipline for being “threatening to the testimony of the church” or being “divisive to the body”; both very vague nebulous wide-open in interpretation statements.

Even after Amanda and Gordon finally leave the church, they still struggle with existential questions caused by Calvinism: Are they saved, does it matter what they believe if God saves whomever he wants to, is it worthwhile sharing with friends about a faith that is so bleak?

I recall reading about a similar struggle in Harriet Beecher Stowe when she was only a little girl; her father was a prominent Calvinist preacher, big on predestination.  She’d stare into a mirror and wonder if she was damned and couldn’t change that.  This is one reason why I rejected Calvinism–and here it’s happening again with somebody else, just like with Stowe.  And of course, Amanda and Gordon wonder how Calvin could both be Spirit-filled and murder people who disagree with his theology.

Amanda also notes that 1 Corinthians 11 is dismissed in modern-day Evangelicalism as “culturally driven and not applicable for today”–except, of course, for the bit about man being the head of the woman (so she’ll submit).  Even in the fundamentalist church in which I grew up, the parts about women submitting to men were also dismissed as culturally driven, back in the 80s.  But for some reason, neo-Calvinists are especially obsessed with making the wymmenfolk shut up and submit.

I also note that, after leaving the church, Amanda and Gordon have very familiar feelings–that they are afraid to connect again somewhere else, afraid of it all happening again.  I felt this after breaking off a destructive, narcissistic, abusive friendship.

I also felt the same way she did, when the other party made no attempt to fix the problems, but instead dismissed it as our decision to break off the friendship, and then simply let go of us without even trying to hold on to us.  When that happens, you feel like the other party never actually cared about you to begin with.  Amanda and Gordon feel that, after they’ve been a part of this church for decades, the leaders don’t care if they stay or go.

My husband–the one in our case who tried to confront our Calvinist pastor–felt dismissed and abused by the experience; for a while he was sensitive even to the style of music being played in our next church.  We got nervous when the pastor went on “sabbatical.”  A church-wide disagreement about a dismissed secretary became cause for alarm.

I don’t believe there was anything actually abusive about the next church we went to, but these feelings did not diminish until my husband went back to being Lutheran and I went to an Orthodox church (no Calvinism or weird Protestant trends there!)  Lutheranism had nothing to do with the Calvinist vs. Arminian debates, while Orthodoxy actually condemned Calvinism, pronouncing “an anathema upon anyone teaching that God predestined anyone to evil or Hell” (Wikipedia).

In conclusion, this book is a good description of what’s happening in churches today, the cult-like practices which are spreading through Evangelicalism.  Hopefully it will save some readers from getting trapped by such a church.

 

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EFCA church we left in 2004 has dipped into extremism

(This is being crossposted with the blog by Wondering Eagle, who writes on issues in Evangelicalism and, particularly, the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA).  My post is a bit longer.)

In the older sections of my website, particularly the theological pages and my conversion story,  you will find many writings about and references to a church my husband and I went to for several years around the turn of the century.  This church was the catalyst for my religious searching and eventual conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.

My husband and I came from different backgrounds–him Lutheran, me Nazarene–so for years we searched for a church that would make us both feel comfortable.  We went to the local EFCA church starting in 2000.  It met in a middle school auditorium, and had about 200 members.

We were there for quite some time, even getting involved in different ministries.  I began helping in the youth group, and loved it.  I was happy being in this church.  My husband (“Jeff”) made friends with the pastor.

I saw little warning signs of extremism way back when we first started there, such as a group who went to witness to a palm reader at her place of business.  But I hoped it was just a few people like that.  Overall it didn’t seem extremist.

Jeff had some trouble with the tithing talk and Evangelical doctrines, and we were a bit uncomfortable around the hand-waving, but we felt we had found a home.  I got used to the contemporary music, and began to like it.  Before, I often had trouble getting out of bed on Sunday; with the Evangelical Free Church, I was encouraged to get back into the Sunday church habit.  I didn’t want to miss a sermon.

Each year, the pastor and several of the teens and adults went to Russia to evangelize.  They helped with a church plant there, or an Evangelical Free church which had been recently started by missionaries and was headed by Russians; they also helped with a church camp.

I didn’t know in those days that the Russian Orthodox Church feels like its toes are being stepped on by all these Protestant missionaries, that they want to rebuild their own church, which was persecuted by the Soviet authorities for so many decades.

I imagine the church that produced so many martyrs during Communism would be upset to hear what my pastor said in church one day after returning from a Russia Team trip: “I visited the Russian Orthodox Church.  It’s not Christian.  It’s full of idols and paganism.”

He used this as an example of how bleak the spiritual atmosphere supposedly is in Russia after Communism.  This must have been in 2003 or 2004; even then, when I had no thought of becoming Orthodox, I knew what he said was wrong.  I knew very little about Orthodoxy, but I did know that people in this Evangelical church sometimes judged other Christians wrongly.

Lutherans were not considered Christian unless they had a “born-again experience”; Jeff resented that.

We had a boy in our youth group who was brought in by some of the teens and eventually had his own “born-again experience”; then we considered him a Christian.  I knew nothing about his background, just what I had been told about his conversion.  When his parents resisted his going to our church and youth group, I thought maybe they were atheists or Pagans who hated Christians.  To my shock, I heard they were Catholic–in other words, that this kid was already a Christian from a Christian family.

As for Jeff resenting the attitude toward Lutherans: He never had a conversion experience, because he was raised in the faith and always believed it.  How can you “convert” to a religion you’ve always been a part of?

What probably made it worse was that there was a former Lutheran in the congregation who felt he wasn’t a Christian until he converted to Evangelicalism.  Once, this person gave me a book, meant for recent converts, to give to Jeff, because somehow he got the idea that Jeff had just had a “born-again experience.”

Another time, the usual sermons were put on hold while the congregation took a series of lessons on how to convert people.  I believe it was the Contagious Christian series.  Some people left during this time, feeling the church had “lost its focus.”

Jeff didn’t like the constant emphasis on going out and doing things, and people constantly “encouraging” him to join the Russia Team or the Cuba Team.  He didn’t feel led to be a missionary, since he did not know those languages, did not like Russian food, and had trouble dealing with people.  He felt like the church members were seen as tools, rather than people who needed to be healed and built up themselves before trying to evangelize other people.

I was raised hard-core premillennialist.  But sometime in 2001, I used several study Bibles–one of them the Oxford Study Bible–to read Revelations.  To my surprise, premillennialism did not make as much sense as the historical or metaphorical interpretations.  I began to lean toward amillennialism.  But premillennialism was part of the Statement of Faith for the Evangelical Free Church.

Shortly after 9/11, the pastor said that most of the people who died that day had gone to Hell because they weren’t Christians.  This pronouncement horrified me.  Even before this, I began wondering if people went to Hell when they weren’t Christians–not because they rejected God, but because they believed truth and deity to be more present in their own religion than Christianity.

What about a Muslim woman who knew something about Christians, but was taught that Islam was correct and Christianity was for infidels, and went through her whole life–all its joys and sorrows–believing she was doing right?  What about Pagans who were kind and loving?  What about agnostics who just weren’t sure?  What about atheists who didn’t reject God necessarily, but just didn’t believe one existed?

What about the Final Judgment, when Christ divided people based on how loving they were, rather than what religion they followed?  I felt like a heretic for thinking this, even though I later discovered that Orthodoxy read the Final Judgment the same way I did.

To become full members of the EFCA, you had to sign a statement agreeing to all the points in the Statement of Faith.  These were considered the essentials; on everything else, you could disagree.  Jeff and I both, though we disagreed in which points, were not in full agreement with the Statement of Faith, so we never became full members.

In 2002, some big tithers had left the church for various reasons, some disgruntled and some simply moving, leaving the church in financial straits.  Once, there had been a building program, which the pastor disbanded due to disagreements between committee members; now, we started going from one building to another because we couldn’t afford our own.

The pastor began preaching heavily on tithing: It must be 10% gross, given to the church, with charitable donations coming afterwards, no matter what your financial situation, or else you just don’t have enough faith.  But we just couldn’t give any more.  The pastor also said that if you couldn’t afford the tithe, there were people in the church who could come to your house, look over your finances, and help you figure out how to do it.  This sent up alarm bells.  The tithing talk began driving people away.

The pastor went on sabbatical and did a lot of reading and praying.  When he came back, probably early in 2003, everything changed.  The tithing talk still came up often, but now there was a new focus.

The pastor must have been reading a lot of books by John Piper and Rick Warren.  He began preaching “Cat and Dog Theology,” which used the supremacy of God doctrine which Piper, a Calvinist, has been spreading in Evangelical circles.  To us, this was strange doctrine, which we had never heard of before.

Coming from Calvinism, it says that every single thing God does is primarily driven by a passion for his own glory–even the Cross.  We knew this was wrong, that the main reason for the Cross and other things was love, though we had no materials besides the Bible to back us up.  I mentioned the supremacy doctrine to my parents, who agreed that it was wrong.

We didn’t want to de-emphasize glory; we merely felt that this strange new theology was over-emphasizing glory at the expense of God’s love for us and everything else in the faith.  All churches we ever attended said that Christ went to the Cross out of a passion not for himself, but for love for us, our salvation.

Now this love for us, this salvation, seemed more like a side effect which just happened to go along with glorifying God.  We could imagine giving God the glory, but could not imagine God primarily seeking glory for himself, like a warrior-king from Beowulf.

The image of the Loving Father was diminished, replaced by a deity that did not seem to care about fairness, justice or mercy, so long as he was glorified.  Don’t grieve for the death of loved ones, don’t pray for their healing, because you don’t know what purpose God has for their suffering or even death.  Don’t pray for your own needs.

Cats believe we’re saved from Hell; dogs go further, believing we’re saved for the glory of God (which figures greatly into the Calvinist predestination doctrine.)  Some people are born to be killed for the glory of God.

Basically, this deity causes death and suffering so he can be glorified.  The doctrines about glory were pounded into our heads every week for months.

And yet the pastor seemed to wonder why we didn’t consider this a wonderful theology.  We watched in disbelief as other members of the church embraced it and began teaching it to others.  Jeff tried to speak to the pastor about it, but felt bullied into agreeing with the glory theology.

We had gone to classes and I had scoured information on the church’s
theology, and there was nothing in there about Calvinism.  I thought
they were pretty lenient about theology.  We didn’t know Piper was Calvinist, just that this new theology sounded “wrong.”  This got me searching the Internet trying to find out where it came from and how to counter it.

I do recall there was a lot of activity between our church and local Reformed churches, but in those days I did not know that “Reformed” meant “Calvinist,” or that our churches could actually be sharing doctrines.  We did not know we were in a church that was becoming Calvinist, since I always thought that Evangelicals were by definition Arminian, that Calvinism was in the strict old-fashioned churches such as the Puritans and the old Presbyterians.

We did not know much about Calvinism, or that all the weirdness we were hearing came from it; all we knew about was the big Calvinist doctrine most people knew about, predestination.

The pastor did once say that the Holy Spirit works on us to bring us to faith, that we don’t do it ourselves, which was a new doctrine to me, but didn’t set off any alarm bells.

John Piper believes this to be a wonderful doctrine, because God’s grace saved us with no regard to who we are; to those of us who are not Calvinist, however, it has terrible implications for those who do not come to faith because God did not choose them.

The pastor began complaining about churches with too many “programs.”  This meant that, for us, all our programs were disbanded or put on hiatus.  No more Sunday School; no more worship team; no more songs which seemed to be about our reaction to God rather than focusing on God.

We now had one worship leader with a guitar, while a PowerPoint setup showed nature pictures.  Doing worship this way wasn’t “wrong,” but it was yet another way that the church was being entirely changed from what we were used to, and that people were being told to stop doing what made them happy.

In early 2003, the youth group was disbanded for lack of money to pay the youth pastor, and the youth pastor essentially fired.  It was so distressing that at least one of the kids cried.

I had helped in the youth group for nearly 2 years, and it had become my life, possibly a calling.  These were my friends.  My weeks revolved around youth group and going to leader meetings.  The youth pastor was my friend and gifted with his work; I loved the antics of the teenagers, especially two of the older boys who were also youth leaders.

The other youth and adult leaders, Jeff, and I tried to get the group back together, but with little success.  The kids started going to other youth groups, and one even said, “I thought we didn’t have a youth group anymore.”

It was now early 2004.  It took me a long time to get over the loss of the youth group.  I resented the pastor for firing the youth pastor.  Fortunately, the youth pastor found new positions; he believed God wanted him to head a new ministry for young adults, which he did for the next several years, and after that he moved on to other ministries.

A thriving Sunday School was one thing which first attracted me to this church.  Now that we had a child of our own and would need it, there was none, and there were fewer and fewer children, as parents began taking their kids to churches which had Sunday Schools for them.

The pastor also began taking scripture out of context to make points (“proof-texting”), heavily using paraphrases, and using various translations–apparently whichever one fit the point best.

Jeff wrote a letter to the pastor about the supremacy of God doctrine and some other things (the church was still losing members–gone from nearly 200 in 2000 and 2001 to about 40 or 50 in 2003), but felt ostracized after that.  We moved to a different church in June 2004.

To this day, we’re still skittish at the words “glory” and “glorify,” afraid of encountering Calvinism again.  Jeff feels the Evangelical Free church was spiritually abusive, especially since it took him a while to recover from it.  Even when he’s in a church and hears the same songs the E-Free church began singing before it turned Calvinist, he fears that church will start going in the same direction the E-Free church did.

And yet, I’m glad we went through this experience, because without it I never would have had an inkling that American Evangelicalism is suffering from great sicknesses: Not only is there materialism and pop Christianity in the churches these days, but bad theology keeps going hither and thither.

By the way, on May 2, 2007, I discovered on the EFCA website that a new Statement of Faith was in the works.  It went into far more detail than the vague 13 statements we were familiar with.  According to page 13 of the third draft revision (no longer available on the Web), “Throughout this Statement, we affirm that God’s glory is the ultimate aim of all God’s works in creation, revelation, and salvation.”

This Calvinist theology was nowhere to be found in the original Statement of Faith; it was not mentioned in the New Member classes; we never heard it in the sermons until the pastor introduced Cat and Dog Theology.  So, essentially, it seems like bait-and-switch.

Has the denomination changed its views in the past several years for whatever reason–reading John Piper, following Evangelical trends of bringing in Calvinism?  Or has the denomination always believed this way, but kept it under wraps for whatever reason?  Supposedly, you could be Calvinist or Arminian in an Evangelical Free church, but the supremacy of God doctrine tilted it toward Calvinism.

In any case, if the old Statement of Faith had been as clear as the third draft revision of the new Statement of Faith, we never would have stayed in the Evangelical Free Church for so long.  Rather, we were given to understand that outside of the 13 vague statements in our version, there was plenty of freedom.  That would have meant freedom to reject the pastor’s supremacy of God doctrine.

We heard in the summer of 2005 that the E-Free church was dying, with so few members they didn’t know if they could get another pastor when that one left.  Around that time, the ad for the church stopped appearing in the newspaper.  In the 2007-2008 phone book, the church’s listing no longer appeared.  For years I thought it was completely gone, especially when another EFCA church moved into town and began to thrive.  (Why have two of the same church in a town this small?)

But a few years ago, I discovered it still exists, under new leadership now, and finally with a building.

I’m not sure what to make of it, because–according to its website–the new version of the church has some very restrictive rules for members, and has changed the names of some Christian holidays to match Old Testament counterparts.  I have also discovered an Internet review from 2012 which says, “Full of religious fanatics masquerading as christians. Stay far away. And, don’t drink the Kool-Aid!”

On their Facebook page is pictures from 2017 of a protest outside of an inter-denominational celebration of Reformation Day.  It included various churches from the city–such as Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans–in order to bring them together.

The Facebook timeline of one of the people in the pictures includes anti-Catholic rants, particularly when he discovers what the celebration is for.  This guy is one of those megaphone street preachers outside of abortion and in-vitro fertilization clinics, who fills Youtube and Facebook with rants and videos about the people who argue with him on the street, clinics, the Catholic view of salvation, etc. etc.  He’s from Illinois, but he was there, participating with our former church at the protest in Wisconsin, presumably as an invited guest.

A flyer in one picture says “Still Protesting.”  In among actual sins–lying, extortion, greed, etc.–are listed homosexuality and unbelief.  In another picture is a picket sign which reads, “Catholics, thank you for being so pro-life, but why worship with those who cannot have salvation?”

And in the post which includes those pictures, someone asks, what are you protesting?  The response: “The errors of the Catholic Church….It is the 500 [sic] anniversary of the Reformation. October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses. Some today want to say the reformation is over. Unfortunately, the divide actually has become wider.  So we are still protesting. Pro= go forth publically.  Test-ing = To test and give witness.  We declare unashamedly still Salvation is the free gift of God.”

So–They’re protesting another Christian church, one which happens to have similar values, during an inter-faith celebration of unity, simply because they don’t agree with their doctrine or with the other denominations hanging out with them.  And saying that they “cannot have salvation”–i.e., that they’re going to Hell because they don’t agree with Evangelicals on how to be saved.

In a PDF posted on the website, I also find an emphasis on male leadership of the church, not just in pastoral positions, but restricting women from any leadership or teaching of men.  Also, according to this PDF, women are to submit to husbands and be quiet in church, learning from men.

In fact, from another page on the website, a couple must meet all sorts of high standards in order to be married in this church, so high that they would not have married Jeff and me.  One of the stipulations is that a couple “conforms” to the “Biblical teaching on the roles of male and female”!  Another is that “Both the man and the woman must be living out consistent Christian lives of worship, growth, giving and outreach.”  How do they define this?  Is it a set number of church visits in a month?  Tithing 10%?  Going on mission teams?  It all seems very intrusive on the life of a couple, who must be allowed to figure things out for themselves.

Poking around on the website, though the leadership has changed, some names I recognize are still there, and the old pastor is still involved.  So these changes are a continuation of what we saw all those years ago–and now it gives me cultish vibes which I never had there before.

For example, I remember the pastor doing a series on wifely submission around 2001 or so, and women and men not being permitted to counsel each other privately.  But I don’t recall restrictions on women teaching men, or such strict rules on who the church will marry.  So what we saw back then, has been taken to extremes in the years since.

This makes it very clear to me that, despite the guilt and depression I felt when we left this church, we dodged a bullet.  Yeah, the Orthodox church has its own issues.  But just as the EFCA as a whole does not appear to be extremist like the church I describe above, neither is Orthodoxy.  My home church is not extremist, for example.

When we went to the above EFCA church, I felt we could be more moderate, and I knew others who were also moderate–several Democrats, in fact.  (Also, in those days I was much more conservative than I am now, with Protestant views of theology.)  But these new revelations tell me that things have changed significantly in the years since we left.  Maybe all the moderates were winnowed out by the preaching on tithing and glory, leaving extremism behind.

 

 

 

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Careful out there: Another abuse site is no longer safe

…Well, unless you ascribe to their particular form of Christianity, which is rather strict and exclusive.

I won’t name the site/blog here because I’m not interested in blog wars or public shaming.  But I will describe what’s going on so you can keep your eyes open.

For years, I’ve supported and occasionally read another site which ministers to Christian victims of domestic abuse.  For years I’ve been totally on board with the concept that churches often make things worse by telling women to stay with their abusers and “submit.”  That is dangerous and needs to be called out.

For years there have been many good things on the site/blog, and I’ve been on their side when other bloggers/preachers try to tell them that they’re not biblical enough, that they’re wrong, that those wimmenfolk should just shut up and submit to their husbands and preachers.  Or that the site is just spreading gossip or some other charge which is meant to shut up victims and make them feel like sinners.

Well, the blog has taken a disturbing turn of late, after a changing of hands.  I can understand a personal blog or a church-run blog taking a hard line on doctrine; they understandably are from a particular point of view.  But the site I speak of, while run by Reformed believers, is a ministry that was originally to all the churches, not just one kind of church.

But now, not only does the site hold to Reformed (ie, Calvinist) theology, but if you don’t agree with it, you’re treated like a heretic–and your comments are suppressed.

For years, I hadn’t read there very often because I’ve moved on for the most part from my own abusive experiences.  Usually I looked at it when I checked how my Blogroll page was working, and saw an interesting blog post title.  So I knew there had been a changing of hands, but not how it affected the running of the site.

I noted a series of posts criticizing a preacher for how he was trying to reform abusers, but that’s fairly typical for abuse sites.  Abuse sites often complain of anger management or counseling having a naive view of how to handle abusers.

But then the blogger began criticizing his particular salvation theology.  (Sounds like he’s Arminian–which, by the way, is how I was raised.)

Imagine my surprise when the following happened:

A few weeks ago, the site owner/blogger posted on some new doctrine (ESS, or Eternal Subjection of the Son) which has been making the rounds in Fundamentalist circles, which s/he takes issue with because of how it affects marital relationships.  Since I’ve been Orthodox for the past 12 years, I haven’t been following what the Protestants have been up to so much, so wasn’t familiar with this.

The blogger began by stating that classic theology is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  As an Orthodox believer, this got a little twitch going:

Careful out there: Another abuse site is no longer safe 2

That is, that little “and the Son” is referred to as the Filioque, which, rather than being classic, was a much later addition to the Nicene Creed–and has been one of the many sources of contention between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism ever since.  You see, it causes a change and imbalance between the members of the Trinity.

Now, I could turn that into a cheeky comment meant to be humorous, and be done with it.  But I suspected that little Filioque was the source of this ESS doctrine, so I went Google-digging.

In a short time, I found a few websites which discussed how this doctrine came from the imbalance caused by the Filioque.  For example,

Roman Catholicism, in its zeal to defend this error has merely transferred an old Arian subordinationist argument concerning the Son, to one about the Spirit!  The irony here is filioquism is ignorantly touted as some response to Arianism, while foolishly making the very same argument the Arians did about the Son and applying it to the Spirit- that He is a product of will.  On top of that, it is touted in their dogmatic manuals, everyday apologists and classic Catechisms.  To admit this to be in error is really the collapse of the entire edifice (which is already happening anyway). –Jay Dyer, Filioquism is Arian Subordination Applied to the Spirit

As you can see reflected above, they also explained that ESS is actually a revival of an old heresy from the early centuries of the Church, called Arianism, long-since condemned after all the trouble it caused.  Heck, even Santa Claus slapped Arius for saying that the Son is not equal to the Father.  The Nicene Creed itself was a response against Arianism.

Since–rather than being a cheeky comment–this actually supported the blogger’s contention that ESS is dangerous heresy, I posted about it.

Also, by posting about doctrine, you could assume that the blogger wouldn’t mind some theological discussion.

I’m used to lively theological debates and discussions online, either watching or participating in them, or–in some cases–starting them.  (No, not as a troll, but to challenge people’s assumptions and get them thinking.)  Usually, forum and blog moderators let them go, only stepping in when somebody gets abusive.  And I am the sort of commenter who never gets moderated because I don’t get abusive.

So imagine my shock when I got an e-mail from the blogger, informing me that s/he would not post my comment.  Why?  Basically, because it spoke of the differences between East and West, i.e. challenged Reformed doctrine.  S/he told me to e-mail the site’s preacher, who knows more about the Filioque.

Oookay….So instead of the lively discussion I hoped for, or little sidenote in a discussion on a blog post, I’m supposed to e-mail a preacher one-on-one about the Filioque?  It sounded like a trap to me, like he’d be teaching me “proper” doctrine, which of course, is Reformed, not that heretical Orthodoxy.

Careful out there: Another abuse site is no longer safe 3

And this is right after I read in this post by Lucky Otter about bewaring of narc-run blogs:

4. The group bans, blocks, or insults people who are self aware borderlines or narcissists — and those who challenge the status quo.

…8. If the owner of the group is religious, they are dogmatic and intolerant of other religious points of view or those who disagree with their religious beliefs.

(Please note: I am NOT implying that the blogger is a narcissist.  Just pointing out that this behavior can be perceived as spiritually abusive–and that it raises up alarm bells.)

I quietly took the blog out of my Blogroll, regretfully, since it appeared that my Orthodox beliefs were not welcome there.  Then I tried to move on and stop thinking about it.

Then I read another blog post, posted last night, on a totally different blog, run by a preacher who also ministers to victims of narcissists and abusers.  I’ll call this OtherBlog.  In the comment section, one person mentioned the Reformed blog.  The OtherBlogger noted that, of late, since the blog changed hands, he could no longer recommend it because of an over-concern for doctrinal purity.  The commenter wrote that she had noted some odd posts in the Facebook group.

So I went over to the Facebook group for the Reformed blog.  Sure enough, over the past couple of weeks, the blogger has been putting up some very troubling posts.  And when people disagree with the blogger’s doctrinal viewpoints, they are argued with, even silenced–while saying that it’s not the same as silencing people.

For example, the most controversial post, calling out Billy Graham as a heretic to watch out for, because he once said that maybe people who never heard of Christ can still be saved.  The blogger complained about all the posts that started coming in, defending Billy Graham or saying that we can’t just say all those people are going to Hell for not believing in something they never heard of.

My gosh, this all smacks of the very kind of Fundamentalism that I’ve been speaking out against on my website for some 14 years, the kind I’ve been actively running from ever since I encountered Reformed theology in an Evangelical Free Church in 2002 or 2003.  This is why, ultimately, I became Orthodox: because it was as far from Reformed theology as you can get.

I see Calvinism as the source of much spiritual abuse and other kinds of abuse as well.  I could’ve been Presbyterian or UCC, except they, too, are connected to Calvinism, despite being very liberal denominations now.

Purity culture, domestic abuse, child abuse–it all goes back to Calvinism and the extremes to which it can go.  Puritans were Calvinists.  Jonathan Edwards was Calvinist; re-reading his sermon years later about sinners in the hands of an angry God, I was horrified by the kind of god he portrayed.

Evangelical churches have been getting infiltrated with Calvinism for years now.  You can read in the comment section of, say, Spiritual Sounding Board about how people have been spiritually abused by this.

My husband felt spiritually abused by the Reformed theology of the E-Free Church we attended for several years.  It didn’t start off Reformed, but began sneaking in Calvinist theology over time.  We finally had to leave because of the damaging doctrines.  Story here.

Even the church I grew up in, which was Fundamentalist and very restrictive in those days, was not Calvinist, and did not say that people who never even heard of Christ are going to Hell.  There was allowance made for what you know.

Even Pat Robertson didn’t say that the unreached were eternally lost.

St. Paul even wrote that people who did not know the Law but lived according to the Law written on their hearts, could be saved.  An article in the Orthodox Study Bible points this out.

So saying they’re all going to Hell–No, that’s not biblical, no matter how it’s wrapped up in flowery words about how such draconian rules are actually Loving and Good.

Such views of such a tyrannical god are–according to Alexandre Kalomiros–what drive people out of Christianity altogether.

So no, I can’t support a site which now insists that part of “helping” people overcome abuse is to insist they follow “proper” doctrine which is not only (according to Orthodoxy) heretical, but spiritually damaging.

Another point: Aside from doctrine, you also have views of what is proper practice, what is sinful and what is not.  Here I deviate from Orthodoxy because I believe that too much reliance on tradition over people, is how you end up with a Pharisaical church.  I will support Orthodox doctrine to the death, because it’s not just the oldest but also the most loving doctrine I’ve ever seen.  But LOVE must be the driver of how you treat people in all things.  In other words, don’t condemn the same-sex couple who wants to get married, don’t condemn the transgendered, don’t enforce the extremes of Purity culture, etc. etc.

From what I’ve seen the Reformed blog become–I would be rejected there because of this, too.  I would be doubly rejected as a heretic now: because I’m Orthodox in doctrine, and because I’m progressive in practice.

I get the impression–since others have already tried–that trying to explain this to the blogger will get nowhere.  But I can warn my readers to take care where they go for spiritual support after abuse.

 

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On Spiritual Abuse

Is your church infected by spiritual abuse?  The Apologetics Index has all sorts of links about this.

Also see Churches That Abuse and Recovering from Churches that Abuse by Ronald Enroth.  These are full books on PDF.  The guy who runs this website has a signed letter from Ronald Enroth giving him permission to scan these two books, both of which are out of print.

One practice, now widely discredited because it easily becomes spiritually abusive, was often used in the 60s and 70s: shepherding.

It’s giving yourself over to someone else, your “covering,” who makes all your decisions for you–even who to date or marry, how often to have sex, or what music to listen to.

If you disagree with your shepherd or suggest changes to the group rules, you just might find yourself out of the group, since the leadership makes all the decisions.  Congregations may find themselves with no vote or voice.

In groups which decided the “shepherds” must be the opposite sex, shepherding has also led to adultery.

It has also led to broken people.

Unfortunately, shepherding seems to have re-emerged in many churches and Christian groups–ones which seem orthodox on the outside, so you must watch out for it.

I’ve heard of accountability groups, which seem to have come from this practice; take care that it does not match characteristics of shepherding.

I’ve also noted that talks about wifely submission sometimes use the same terms used in shepherding: i.e., the husband is the “covering” for the wife and she “submits to his decisions” no matter what.

Webpages on shepherding, what it is, how it’s abused:

Shepherding Movement

Christian: Who is your covering?  A Christian look at the Shepherding Movement by Steve Coleman

Shepherding Movement–Discipleship Movement–Christian Growth Ministries–Advanced Information

National Shepherding Movement–Discipleship Movement–Promise Keepers Warning

Article by Don Matzat about this and other issues

The Shepherding Movement Comes of Age by Lynn and Sarah Leslie describes the practice of signing covenants, which exists in many groups and churches.  It also implicates the Purpose-Driven Church model.

Willow Creek charges Promise Keepers and Willow Creek Church with shepherding.  The writers are rather fundamentalist and I disagree with them on many points, but they still make interesting charges.  Whether the charges are true or not, you be the judge.

Here and here, you can investigate whether Willow Creek practices shepherding.  And here, you can check out Saddleback’s FAQ.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot on these sites.  I’ve heard of restrictive covenants and the like, but don’t have proof of them.

Nowadays, you can also find blogs about spiritual abuse, on which you can share stories, find comfort and validation, and learn which churches to avoid.  My favorites:

The Wartburg Watch

Spiritual Sounding Board

Healing from Complex Trauma and PTSD/CPTSD (includes posts about a spiritually abusive pastor)

Written between probably 2005 and 2007

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

Tithing 
End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
Creation 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation
Miscellaneous 

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

Dialogues
The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church

 

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